Without a Name, a novel written by Yvonne Vera, explores the journey of a young Zimbabwean woman, Mazvita, during the late 1970’s guerilla war. In 1963, the two political parties in Zimbabwe were banned, which led to guerilla warfare in 1966. This ultimately led to emigration out of Rhodesia. In the novel, Mazvita traveled from her hometown of Mubaira, to the city of Harare. In her hometown, she faced rebel forces, who sexually abused her along with destroyed her village. In the course of her journey to Kadoma and the city of Harare, Mazvita encountered more political violence and a revolutionary social change. Along with the never-ending political revolution, it is important to note the gender differences at this time. Women were considered inferior in this male dominating culture; this idea is central to Vera’s writings and plays a significant role in Without A Name, where Vera attempts to establish a change in the traditional views in Africa. Due to women’s traditional roles in Zimbabwe, females become a site of oppression and bodily confinement, which give colonial powers an opportunity to use this secret sexuality as a way to abuse; Vera uses her female protagonist’s body and sexual pleasure to challenge patriarchy, with sex as a central symbol for resistance and ultimately freedom against colonial powers.
In Vera’s writings, it is clearly evident that women’s sexual roles are disapproved of and criticized in traditional African culture. It is crucial to understand how women were treated toward the beginning of Vera’s story line to fully interpret the theme of sex and freedom in Without a Name. Corwin Mhlahlo, author of “Advocating a Nameable Desire,” explains, “In most patriarchal societies, especially those of Africa, female desire and sexual pleasure are very much frowned upon and thus to be discouraged, suppressed, and repressed… A woman expressing this is often openly criticized and marginalized” (Mhlahlo 97). Sexual desire and pleasure in females were scrutinized during this time in African societies, which made it difficult for women to truly express themselves, as seen in Vera’s protagonist, Mazvita. Grace Musila, author of “Embodying Experience and Agency in Yvonne Vera's Without a Name and Butterfly Burning,” attempts to decipher where this taboo originated:
“Notably, the tabooing of these experiences is intimately related to the veil of secrecy that is wrapped around the female body and female sexuality in most cultures; a secrecy that is often passed off as reverence for women. In many African cultures, this secrecy is ingrained in children as they grow up, where female sexual organs are often considered obscene, unmentionable, and therefore taboo,” (Musila 56).
Musila argues these traditional concepts over the female body have been ingrained in children since they were little, which makes it very difficult to remove these stereotypes from the African culture. However, that is exactly what Vera is attempting to do: remove the...